Spotlight: Researcher works for male sexual-abuse victims

BY ALLIE WRIGHT | APRIL 20, 2011 7:20 AM

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Mental problems can sometimes keep people from reaching their full potential.

Scott Easton's job is to stop that.

The University of Iowa Ph.D. student just finished his dissertation about male sexual-abuse victims and the mental complications that can occur after traumatic abusive experiences.

Easton, who also recently finished a two-year commitment working as a therapist in Cedar Rapids, said he wants to help encourage male sexual-abuse victims of all ages to speak up about tragedies in their past.

The 42-year-old teaches Advanced Research in the UI School of Social Work, in which, he said, he takes on the challenge of getting students excited about not only the practice of social work but the research aspect as well.

"The whole goal is to advance knowledge and develop interventions that help people," he said, gesturing to a set of shelves to his left. "Social work isn't just a book on a shelf."

Sitting in a conference room at his office, Easton said he mostly dealt with adults with psychological problems, such as anxiety and depression, during his stint as a therapist.

"I came into social work to go into therapy and clinical work to try to help people reach their potential," he said, fidgeting with a binder on the table in front of him.

Easton, a graduate of Harvard University, said he chose to focus on male sexual-abuse victims because the population is "underserved, understudied, and undertreated."

He said the large amount of stigma and shame often attached to these patients encouraged him to devote his time studying the psychological effects of these events.

His research surveyed more than 480 people and found evidence that victims who are hyper-masculine tend to suffer from more depression, anxiety, and are more susceptible to suicide, Easton said.

"There is so much taboo and stigma, [victims] don't want to admit it," he said.

Easton said male stereotypes cause victims to hesitate to admit they have been assaulted and abused.

"A lot of the time, we think you can't show feelings or vulnerability, and you need to protect yourself at all times," he said.

And sometimes, he said, victims place the blame on themselves rather than their abuser.

His colleagues said Easton will make a difference in the topic of his in-depth research.

UI Professor Carol Coohey said she thinks Easton's work will encourage others to follow in his footsteps.

"I think he is the most gifted student that I've worked with in my 20 years as a professor," she said. "Not just intellectually. He is a very kind person."

Easton's loved ones shared these sentiments.

"He's just an amazing individual," said wife Ikram Easton. "He's extremely compassionate about his work and his profession and social work, in particular."

They have been married for eight years and have two children together.

Ikram Easton noted her husband's humility and said he is "very, very humble" about his obvious intelligence.

"It's been a great journey," she said. "His [doctorate] is a highlight of his hard work."

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